17:1 1 The whole community2 of the Israelites traveled on their journey3 from the Desert of Sin according to the Lord’s instruction, and they pitched camp in Rephidim.4 Now5 there was no water for the people to drink.6
sn This is the famous story telling how the people rebelled against Yahweh when they thirsted, saying that Moses had brought them out into the wilderness to kill them by thirst, and how Moses with the staff brought water from the rock. As a result of this the name was called Massa and Meribah because of the testing and the striving. It was a challenge to Moses’ leadership as well as a test of Yahweh’s presence. The narrative in its present form serves an important point in the argument of the book. The story turns on the gracious provision of God who can give his people water when there is none available. The narrative is structured to show how the people strove. Thus, the story intertwines God’s free flowing grace with the sad memory of Israel’s sins. The passage can be divided into three parts: the situation and the complaint (1–3), the cry and the miracle (4–6), and the commemoration by naming (7).
tn The text says that they journeyed “according to their journeyings.” Since the verb form (and therefore the derived noun) essentially means to pull up the tent pegs and move along, this verse would be saying that they traveled by stages, or, from place to place.
sn The location is a bit of a problem. Exod 19:1–2 suggests that it is near Sinai, whereas it is normally located near Kadesh in the north. Without any details provided, M. Noth concludes that two versions came together (Exodus [OTL], 138). S. R. Driver says that the writer wrote not knowing that they were 24 miles apart (Exodus, 157). Critics have long been bothered by this passage because of the two names given at the same place. If two sources had been brought together, it is not possible now to identify them. But Noth insisted that if there were two names there were two different locations. The names Massah and Meribah occur alone in Scripture (Deut 9:22, and Num 20:1 for examples), but together in Ps 95 and in Deut 33:8. But none of these passages is a clarification of the difficulty. Most critics would argue that Massah was a secondary element that was introduced into this account, because Exod 17 focuses on Meribah. From that starting point they can diverge greatly on the interpretation, usually having something to do with a water test. But although Num 20 is parallel in several ways, there are major differences: 1) it takes place 40 years later than this, 2) the name Kadesh is joined to the name Meribah there, and 3) Moses is punished there. One must conclude that if an event could occur twice in similar ways (complaint about water would be a good candidate for such), then there is no reason a similar name could not be given.
tn The disjunctive vav introduces a parenthetical clause that is essential for this passage—there was no water.